X Men day!!

X Men day is here!! What? You’ve never heard of it? Well its a day to celebrate the end of a 20 run of X Men films as the last 20th Century Fox X film is due to be released ahead of Marvel taking back ownership of these characters, and we assume, a rest of a few years before new films are launched. There’s lots of talk of how these characters are great, how much money they’ve made for Fox, how excited Uberfans are for the forthcoming Marvel films and on and on but there’s one thing really missing.

That’s the fact the comic was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1963. It may not have been one of Kirby’s favourite creations, and certainly Lee made his mint off the characters over the last 20 years but for fucks sake can anyone writing about this horrendous marketing toll at least mention the two people who actually came up with the concept in the first place?

The legacy of Stan Lee

Now that Stan Lee’s death has sunk in, the conversation turns to his legacy which considering that some of his obituaries are crediting him with the likes of Captain America, the time for this to be made clear is now.

The first thing to be said is that Lee’s position in comics is unquestioned. Without Lee, comics today would be very, very different and as for Marvel, they’d have went bust without Lee’s work in the 60’s. There also isn’t any question that Stan Lee helped create iconic characters now worth billions or that his dialogue helped sell Marvel Comics, or that he was a very nice man as anyone who met him can testify to.

No, the issue lies with ownership. Stan was always the publishers nephew and an exceptional companyman for Marvel even during the times he wasn’t welcome in the 90’s in the company he helped build.Stan claimed ownership of everything to the point where it became a joke in recent years.that Stan would have claimed credit for the Bible if he was around.

The issue of ownership is important because  while Stan was alive he never gave people like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko the credit they deserved. Sure, he’d give them credit for being great artists but never actually the credit they wanted, and because when Stan was interviewed especially after the 70s, it’d be no more than a promo film for Stan/Marvel, journalism failed. Except one time when Jonathan Ross interviewed him.

One of the reasons Lee’s claims to have essentially thought all the Marvel characters up and then gave them to an artist to fill out is nonsense, is partly because we can look at Lee’s post and pre peak-Marvel output and see how thin it is creatively. She-Hulk amounts to Lee’s one lasting post Jack Kirby/Ditko/etc creation. The main reason is the weight of evidence from not only co-creators but those staff who worked at Marvel, not to mention artists who came in after the peak 63-66 period of Marvel.

The site Comic Book Historians has an excellent listing of Stan’s, well, bravado and liberal application of what he created, and it’s pretty damning. Also in the week of Stan’s death, Howard Chaykin’s splendid history of comics, Hey Kids! Comics. released it’s fourth issue…

This issue deals largely with its version of Stan Lee. Its pretty brutal in places. Funky Flashman levels of brutal.It’s also essential reading as Chaykin’s comic is a telling of all those stories creators tell each other that never hit the history books…

So what’s Stan’s legacy? Is he a jocular grandad who built a universe from an amazing spurt of creativity over six years or was he always the companyman working to ensure the creations now worth billions stayed safe with the company? Was he someone who could make a wee boy’s year by signing a Hulk comic for him or was he someone who didn’t especially care about giving his co-creators the credit they deserved?

Fact is, it’s all of the above. Stan’s legacy is going to be a complex, and probably messy one. The truth is comics wouldn’t be the same without him, but the truth is also he wasn’t the creator he made himself out to be and that complexity is going to make some people reappraise Stan, but that’s probably a good thing. If it gets the names of Stan’s co-workers out there and helps give a more accurate picture of Marvel’s Silver Age before all the men and women involved pass away then that’s a good thing and that can be Stan’s legacy.

How to draw comics the Marvel way

How to draw comics the Marvel way is probably the best ‘how to’ book for beginners to learn to draw comics, and not just superhero comics Produced by Stan Lee and John Buscema, it’s a step-by-step guide to well, draw comics the Marvel way.

Back in the late 80’s a companion video was released featuring Lee and Buscema. Stan was just coming out of his Funky Flashman phase while Buscema was nearing the end of his career but his talent as one of comics true greats is clear. The video is a relic of the time but it’s still one of the best guides out there, plus Stan’s wig is amazing.

RIP Stan Lee

Stan Lee is dead at 95 years old. For me Stan is eternally wearing an open-necked shirt and a bad wig as he sailed through the 1960’s into the 70’s.

The first time I met Lee he looked like this. That was waaaaaaay back in the late 70’s when he came to the UK (something he did often as his wife Joan was from Newcastle) to sign copies of Hulk Weekly.

By this point Stan had barely written a word of comics in years but every Marvel comic opened with the legend, Stan Lee Presents… so us young folk assumed Stan was still there working away but by 1979 Stan was at best a figurehead as he pushed all of Marvel’s characters to a variety of film and TV studios, with at best varied results. However I’d also grown up saying ‘Stan and Jack’ because the idea of separating Lee from Kirby during a still astonishing period of creativity during the 60’s that saw Marvel develop from a company going out of business to a cultural phenomenon.

Kirby and Lee’s Fantastic Four remains the peak of what Marvel could do in the 60’s. The first 101 issues contain no filler. Every issue drops a new character, or concept or story that’s simply glorious and instead of spending a year developing an idea to death, Kirby and Lee would use two or three issues at most before moving onto something else. Take the run from FF Annual #3 with the wedding of Reed and Sue through to #44’s introduction of the first Inhuman, to #48’s introduction of Galactus and the Silver Surfer, ‘the sublime story This Man, This Monster in #51 and the introduction of the Black panther in #52.Any single issue would be something for most creators today to hang their C.V up on. Kirby and Lee were firing them out monthly.

Stan Lee helped shape me. Marvel’s tales of two-dimensional morality were great and with the visuals of a Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko or Wally Wood they were perfection. Of course I wasn’t to know that Kirby, Ditko, Wood, etc were being ripped off thanks partly to Stan’s myth-making. I only cared about the comics which brings me back to that first time I met Stan. He was everything I expected. Charming, witty and bigger than Galactus.  He may have spelled my name wrong but fuck it, Stan Lee signed my comic!!A decade or so later someone nicks it.Ah well.

Second time I met Stan was at one of the UKCAC‘s in London. He wasn’t a guest but was in town and heard there was a comic convention on. I remember Mike Lake and John McShane sticking their head into the free bar which Titan Distributors stuck on for dealers on the Friday evening telling everyone that ‘fucking hell guys, Stan fucking Lee is outside signing stuff’. Carrying as much free beer as one can, I stuck my head out the door and yes, there was Stan fucking Lee signing stuff. By this point I was aware of the stories that circulate both in and out of public domain but fuck it, there’s Stan fucking Lee reducing dealers, distributors and assorted hangers on to drooling fanboys. I mean I knew what he’d done to Kirby and Ditko especially, I knew he didn’t have anything to do with creating characters he still carries a co-creator credit on and I’d read Kirby’s vicious caricature of him; Funky Flashman, which featured a pathetic Roy Thomas trying to convince Stan to hand over the family jewels to him.

But Stan had a way to make you forget the stories and swallow the myth whole. This is basically what Stan’s done for the 21st century; sell the myth of Marvel and now he’s passed away and it’s impossible to tear apart the man from the myth that he’s spent 60 years cultivating.

So what did Stan actually do?

Without a doubt he sold Marvel Comics. The Fantastic Four would be an interesting alternative to the Challengers of the Unknown and probably sold well enough, but without Lee’s lines of dialogue punching up Kirby’s art, not to mention Lee’s careful stewardship of Marvel during the 60’s, we’d not have billion dollar films today. In fact superhero comics might not have lasted into the 70’s as DC’s superhero revival of the late 50’s was losing steam by 63, and they had to adapt to the world Marvel created. And Lee saw comics as an art form; a medium to tell stories that can’t be told any other way or to cultivate talent which couldn’t be cultivated in any other medium. His attempts to mainstream Underground Comix of the age testifies to that.

Stan Lee took what he had to push comics, and in a stab to the Gamergate crew, pushed a liberal agenda of basic human decency in editorials which spoke to us, the reader. it made us feel good about ourselves and for many of us having hard times or looking to escape, Stan sold us what we wanted. He gave us joy. The same sort of joy a wee boy getting a Hulk comic signed felt all those years ago.

There’s going to be a time and place to give Stan a real tribute that is warts and all the complexity that come with it. All that can be said for now is that for those of us with a long history in comics, Stan is a complex figure but his passing may not come as a shock. 95 is a good age, but with Lee’s passing another link to those early days of comics from the Golden to Silver Age is gone.

So lets remember Stan the showman. Stan the Man.

Who writes the narrative of the history of comics?

From the very start of comics as we’ve known the medium for the last century or so, people, and companies, have claim credit for creating characters which they didn’t. The main reason this has happened is money, then ego in order to propel their own career and in the process create a narrative that’s often adopted to become the mainstream view. The best known cases of this are Bob Kane claiming he created everything about Batman, and the likes of Jerry Robinson or Bill Finger (who actually came up with most of what we know as Batman today)  were just hired hands helping Kane out. Complete bollocks of course.

Then there’s Stan Lee who has seemingly been claiming creative ownership since his first pubic hair grew, though this is something he inherited from his uncle Martin Goodman. So over the decades people have been fighting to get the credit they’re due but the narrative is something they often have to fight against.

The video below is from San Diego Comic Con this year and it features a discussion which may well only be of interest to the hardcore comics freak like myself, but it’s a fantastic discussion of history that really does make you question the narrative of history.

Stan Lee is the latest person accused of sexual abuse

One of the things about the post-Harvey Weinstein world where #metoo shows how prevalent sexual abuse is and just how badly a large number of people are as their reputation lie in tatters. Although there are issues with the campaign it has done good, there is some concern of a new wave of puritanism, which has indeed sparked off the French, but that is to be expected…

With things being as they are it seems anyone is up for accusations of sexual abuse, with the latest big name being Stan Lee.In an exclusive by the Daily Mail, Lee is accused of groping nurses, demanding oral sex and generally being a bit creepy. Lee’s lawyers in turn have sent out cease and desist letters to the Mail, and the whole thing gets played out in public with nobody knowing the facts and with the Mail’s piece being a masterclass in supposition, hints and rumour we won’t get the truth from that fascist rag either, though at least it calls Lee a co-creator of characters like Spider-Man so there’s at least an ability to look up Wikipedia.

My point is I’m concerned by this trial by media as in a time when everyone is so polarised and as the cases of Toby Young and Jared O’Mara shows, both the establishment left and right have issues with sexism and we seem to have taken one step forward and two steps back.

If Lee is found guilty of crimes on a court of law rather than the court of Twitter then fuck him, but until he is, he’s going to be dragged into this highly charged and polarised atmosphere where everything is seen in absolutes and there’s no room for anything else & in the era of Brexit and Trump this polarisation isn’t a healthy thing for society.

What I thought of X Men: Grand Design #1

Marvel Comics are in trouble according to many an article out there on the interwebs, and indeed much of their monthly line (barring a few gems like Squirrel Girl and the astonishingly charming Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur) ranges from average superheroics to incompetent drivel created by people who don’t know what they’re doing. So here comes a genuine comics auteur in the shape of Ed Piskor to retell through his eyes the first 300 issues of X Men. That takes us from Kirby and Lee’s early vision, through to the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams/Jim Steranko era and then the Chris Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne era and beyond.

From the off Piskor deftly welds Golden Age stories into the mythos of the X Men not to mention Piskor is perfectly happy using sound effects to create comics not designed to be adapted for a film of TV series, but to be read and enjoyed as what they are; comics.This panel of a teenage Magneto escaping Nazis by controlling Captain America’s shield is a delight.

We were promised a coherent story as opposed to a routine retelling of the X Men’s history, and we get it. In fact the information and detail in this is extraordinary, and even if you’re used to Piskor’s work from Hip Hop Family Tree, this is dense stuff. IT is however, never tedious or boring.

Neither does Piskor shy off from going cosmic early on in the narrative.

However the timeline is stuck to as snippets and back-up stories are all pieced together to form this one driving narrative Piskor was out to achieve.

So when we come to the X Men forming as we know them in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s first issue, we’ve had an extensive and detailed history in the equivalent of a single monthly issue of a standard American superhero comic.

X Men: Grand Design is a reminder of what made Marvel great which is that they made comics which were fun , not to mention the vision of one or two people pushing to do the best they can rather than committees of accountants or editors who have no idea how to edit. Things clearly are not right at Marvel as this interview with Ed Piskor and X Men writer Chris Claremont hints at,  but X Men: Grand Design is a joyful, loving celebration of everything that made Marvel great as well a great work of comics from a creator allowed to do what he wants. That should be a hint for Marvel as to how to make things better for the entirety of their line, but right now X Men: Grand Design is the perfect superhero comic.